Busted, but not a bust

Justin Harrell has time to turn around his career but a second round of back surgery is not a good sign, Packer Report's Bill Huber writes.

Justin Harrell isn't a bust. He might be busted — and perpetually so, like Humpty Dumpty — but he's not a bust.

At least not yet.

With Harrell needing a second procedure to fix his back, his second season with the team appears in peril. While he could come back at midseason, how much of an impact can he make after missing all of the offseason practices and all of training camp?

It didn't take long for the sports radio crowd to label Harrell a bust on par with Tony Mandarich and Ahmad Carroll. In fact, that banter started long before Harrell was placed on the physically unable to perform list on Monday morning. But let's stop the hyperbole for just a second.

Yes, Harrell was a major disappointment last season. Yes, Harrell is an even bigger disappointment this season — remember, general manager Ted Thompson traded Corey Williams to the Browns to make way for Harrell.

Asked what fans can expect to see from Harrell, assuming he ever gets healthy, Thompson offered a resounding, "I don't know."

"Eventually," Thompson continued, "we hope that he's the good player we think he is. He was a good player in college. He had some injuries in college, and we need to get past that. We don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with him. We don't think it's a lack of toughness. We just think he's just had some bad luck. We think he's going to be a good part of a good group."

That's a lot of "think" for a player drafted 16th overall in 2007.

What we know is Harrell's absence could have a cascade effect on a defense that's being counted on to pick up a considerable amount of slack as the offense transitions from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers.

Harrell and Johnny Jolly were supposed to compete for the tackle spot opposite Ryan Pickett. Instead, Harrell is out, Jolly has been slowed by a nagging hip flexor and Pickett hasn't practiced during camp because of an injured hamstring.

With Harrell out and Jolly and Pickett not 100 percent, the Packers will have to rely on steady but unspectacular Colin Cole and inconsistent Daniel Muir. Starting end Cullen Jenkins can move inside, but he hasn't stood out at tackle, and moving him inside only creates a void on the outside.

So, while jettisoning Favre to the Jets will be a trade talked about forever in Packers history, trading Williams to the Browns for a second-round pick that was used on struggling quarterback Brian Brohm may have the far larger impact on this season. Just a hunch here, but Adrian Peterson and Co. over there in Minneapolis probably are salivating after watching the Broncos run roughshod against the undermanned middle of the Packers' defense on Friday.

In the big picture, it's too early to call Harrell a bust. Maybe he comes back and plays well in the second half of this season, then uses that success as a springboard to become the run-stuffing tackle Thompson envisioned last year.

But if that sounds like a steaming pile of wishful thinking, that's because it probably is. Back surgery is never a good thing, and that's doubly so when you're a 24-year-old man whose back has been cut open twice. And, using that medical degree I got from the University of Cracker Jack, weighing 315 pounds and absorbing a pounding in the NFL trenches isn't the best way to keep that back feeling good.

The Packers need Harrell, and Harrell needs to shake that "bust" label. Lugging around the proverbial 600-pound gorilla isn't good for a back, either.

Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com

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